Classic finals: The man with the golden shoes 

The history of the Olympic Games is full of dramatic, emotional and beautiful moments that took place in finals. Every week, relive the most incredible finals you can remember on video. This week, we look at the Atlanta 1996 men’s 200m final.

Picture by Getty Images

The deets

  • Men's 200m final. Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games 
  • Centennial Olympic Stadium, 1 August 1996

The background

Heading into the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Michael Johnson was aiming to make history.

In 100 years of the Games, no male athlete had ever won gold in both the 200m and 400m events at the same Olympics. And for Johnson to achieve that feat, he would have to conquer the demons from Barcelona.

In 1992, Johnson had been an odds-on favourite in the 200m, but a bout of food poisoning had left him unable to perform anywhere close to his best. He finished sixth in his semi-final heat, failing to make the final by 0.16 seconds.

Four years later on 1 August 1996, the 29-year-old Johnson had already won 400m gold in an Olympic record time of 43.49 seconds three days earlier.

Now with 200m of track standing in the way of history, Johnson was preparing for the race of his life.

Key moment

If the pressure of achieving something that had never been done before wasn’t enough for Johnson, a choice of clothing had upped the ante even more.

His shoes.

With a statement-making decision, Johnson had chosen to wear a pair of shiny-bright gold running spikes for the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. The custom-made design (the left shoe was a US size 10.5 while the right shoe was a US size 11) earned Johnson the nickname, “The man with the golden shoes”. But golden shoes mean nothing if the medal you win isn’t the same colour.

“I didn’t want to be standing there in gold-plated shoes with a silver medal around my neck,” said Johnson after the Games.

The field in the 200m finals included some of the greatest sprinters in history. Johnson’s main rival for gold was Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, who only weeks earlier had beaten the U.S. athlete in this very same event.

As the starting gun fired, Johnson got away cleanly. He led coming out of the bend, having completed the first 100m in 10.12 seconds.

But if the first 100m was impressive, the second was simply remarkable.

As he cruised across the finish line, metres ahead of his closest rivals, Johnson had not only broken the world record… he had smashed it.

His final time was 19.32 seconds, three tenths of a second less than the previous world best and the largest ever improvement on a 200m record.

It meant the second half of the race had been run in an unbelievable time of 9.2 seconds - a third of a second faster than Usain Bolt’s current world record of 9.58.

Picture by Getty Images

The outcome

Historically, the title of “world’s fastest man” is given to the 100m champion. But after his heroics in Atlanta, that title was reserved for Michael Johnson.

Incredibly, given his performance, the athlete had suffered a hamstring injury during the 200m final that ruled him out of competing in the 4x100m relay final, effectively preventing him from winning yet another gold medal.

Four years later at the Sydney 2000 Games, Johnson was looking to repeat history with another 200m/400m double. But while he did win gold in the 400m at 33 years and 12 days old, he suffered an injury in the 200m final that prevented him from successfully defending his title.

It took another 12 years before Michael Johnson’s Atlanta 1996 200m was broken. On 20 August, 2008, the legendary Usain Bolt won the Olympic final in Beijing in a time of 19.296 seconds.

But to this day, no other man has ever completed the 200/400m double at an Olympic Games.


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